Russian mercenary chief: Lukashenko: Prigozhin arrived in Belarus

Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has arrived in Belarus following his armed uprising against Moscow's military leadership.

Russian mercenary chief: Lukashenko: Prigozhin arrived in Belarus

Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has arrived in Belarus following his armed uprising against Moscow's military leadership. "Yes, really, he is in Belarus today," ruler Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday in Minsk, according to the state news agency Belta. The Kremlin had assured Prigozhin of impunity if he left for Belarus.

The 62-year-old, whose mercenaries previously fought alongside the regular Russian army in Ukraine for months, escalated a long-simmering power struggle within the Russian military leadership last Saturday. The Wagner fighters first occupied the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don and then marched on towards Moscow. Their practically unhindered advance only stopped a good 200 kilometers from the Russian capital. According to official information, Lukashenko is said to have mediated with Prigozhin on behalf of Putin and persuaded the mercenary boss to give up.

In return, the Kremlin assured Prigozhin of impunity. On the other hand, he offered the rebellious Wagner fighters to serve in Russia's armed forces. However, like Prigozhin, you can travel to Belarus at your own request, it said.

Lukashenko: Kremlin wanted to "kill" the Wagner insurgents

According to Lukashenko, Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin initially relied on a violent solution during the Wagner mercenary uprising. Putin called him on Saturday morning and described the situation to him, Lukashenko said, according to the Belarusian state news agency Belta. Lukashenko said he understood that the hard decision had already been made in the Kremlin to "kill" the Wagner people. He then had a telephone connection with the mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin.

"In the first round we only spoke to each other with swear words for 30 minutes," Lukashenko continued. Prigozhin was "euphoric". He demanded a talk with Putin and the surrender of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Commander-in-Chief Valery Gerasimov and threatened a march on Moscow. Lukashenko's answer: "Halfway there they will crush you like a bug."

Only after several more rounds of talks did Prigozhin signal in the afternoon that he would end his uprising if he and his people were given security guarantees, according to Lukashenko. He then offered Prigozhin to take him and the Wagner fighters to his country.

Expert: Russians will liquidate Prigozhin

According to political scientist Herfried Münkler, after the armed uprising of the Wagner mercenaries, Prigozhin still had to fear for his life. "I assume that the Russians will liquidate Prigozhin sooner or later," he told Spiegel Online. The Belarusian dictator Lukashenko, who is now apparently giving him shelter, will hardly stand in the way of the Russian secret service.

According to Münkler, the sensational march of the Wagner troops towards Moscow was probably a reaction by Prigozhin to the fact that Russia's Defense Minister Shoigu wanted to place all mercenary troops under the supreme command of the military. "This would eliminate Prigozhin as an independent actor, both militarily and politically. His goal was therefore to depose Shoigu and Commander-in-Chief Valery Gerasimov."

Putin: Wagner Group was fully funded by the state

However, Putin admitted for the first time that the Wagner army was entirely funded by the Russian state. "We completely funded this group," Putin said at a meeting with soldiers, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

Putin had called the Wagner people "traitors" in view of their uprising on Saturday. According to Putin, the group received a total of 86.26 billion rubles (around 930 million euros) from the state budget from May 2022 to May 2023. Officially, the Wagner Army calls itself a private military company.

At the same time, Putin announced an investigation into the cash flows at the parent company of the Wagner army, Concord Holding. Because while the Wagner troupe was fully financed by the state, Concord also earned 80 billion rubles. "I hope nobody stole anything or, let's say, stole a little bit," said the Kremlin chief.

Kremlin chief announces changes in the leadership of the armed forces

Putin also commented on the consequences that a successful uprising by the Wagner army could have had for the continuation of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. According to the Kremlin chief, much that had been achieved in the "special military operation" would have been "lost" in that case.

Prigozhin's Wagner units were one of the most powerful and brutal troops in Russia's 16-month war of aggression. In addition to many ex-prisoners, highly professional mercenaries with extensive combat experience are deployed in the private army.

Putin announced changes in the leadership of the Russian armed forces "in the near future". The "backbone" of the armed forces leadership will in future be made up of people who have proven themselves in combat. This also includes the Air Force. The Kremlin chief did not comment on whether he is sticking with his defense minister, Shoigu.

Shoigu has been criticized for months for the failure of the aggressive war against Ukraine and also had nothing to counter the uprising of Prigozhin - one of his greatest adversaries.

Putin: Virtually "civil war" prevented in Russia

In a speech beforehand, Putin thanked the security services for their efforts to protect Russia. Soldiers and employees of the secret services opposed the attempted revolt on June 24 and thus prevented a "civil war," Putin said in a speech to uniformed officers on the Kremlin grounds. Among those present was Shoigu.

"You defended the constitutional order, the life, security and freedom of our citizens, saved our homeland from tremors, effectively prevented a civil war," Putin said in the speech, which was shown on state television. "We knew we were going to win, the insurgents wouldn't have taken Moscow," he said.